Founded in the spring of 1986, Sensible Software began producing games for the 8-bit market of the time before becoming the legends of the 16-bit world that we know and love today. With many of its games due to appear on Antstream Arcade, we take a look back at six of Sensible’s finest creations – which is your favourite?
With its wacky scenario and endearing gameplay, this was Sensible’s second game for Manchester publisher Ocean (after the superb Parallax), and a huge hit. A unique shoot-‘em-up – or should that be colour-‘em-up? – the aim is to restore all the vibrant colours to Wizworld, turned boring grey by an evil Wizard called Zark. Playing another wizard, Wiz, droplets of paint have to be collected (via the player’s cat, Nifta AKA Catelite – stay with us) which can then be used to colourise each level. Together with a range of power ups and imaginative enemies, Wizball was well-reviewed, and a smash too, proving that original games could still combine to create the perfect storm of critical and commercial success.
Taking its cue from god simulations such as the Intellivision’s Utopia, Mega-Lo-Mania sees the player assuming the mantle of one of four coloured deities. Designed by Sensible founders Jon Hare and Chris Yates, it’s a real-time strategy game before that genre really became a thing, and its gameplay mechanics will strike a chord with anyone who grew up with Command and Conquer and its peers. Prior to each stage, the player decides where to place their base tower and how to deploy their manpower. Do you set them to work designing fancy new weaponry, or get them building and mining? A good balance between all the necessary requirements is the key to success, and of course, your opponents are doing the same, and must be repelled should they decided they like the look of your domain. Released initially on Sensible’s favoured Commodore Amiga, Mega-Lo-Mania broke new ground with its technology tree and real-time play and earned itself ports onto the Atari ST, Mega Drive and SNES, among others.
The evil mouse wizard Zark is back and he’s kidnapped Wiz, the hero of Wizball, his cat Nifta and her eight kittens! The scene is set for a rescue by Wizkid, son of Wiz, and a talented little chap in his own right. Wizkid incorporates many ideas and plans Sensible had considered for Wizball as it developed ideas on the fly, and this gives it an even more pronounced air of silliness than present in the first game. However, in contrast to Wizball, each level begins in eyeball-searing bright colours whereupon sit several blocks of different shapes and sizes according to which stage. Wizkid is a tough nut, and can use these blocks to knock against the various enemies of the screen. There are also coloured musical notes to collect and power-ups such as teeth which enable Wizkid to catch blocks in his mouth. Often overlooked today, Wizkid is a charming and cute adventure, complete with the usual Sensible Software sense of humour.
Sensible Soccer (1992)
Tiny sprites, fictional player names and a top-down 2D view: Sensible Soccer, by all rights, should not have been the mega hit it was back in 1992. But it was, and it was all because of that one, elusive ingredient that technology will never replace - gameplay. The spiritual successor to Sensible’s previous footie effort, Microprose Soccer, Sensible Soccer – or Sensi as it was soon affectionately dubbed – has retained a fervent cult following to this day, and one that still holds the game up as one of the finest football simulations ever. The key to its playability is the speed at which the game could be played and the crazy aftertouch feature that allows players to score using ridiculous post-kick swerves. Released on the Amiga and Atari ST in 1992, subsequent versions include more frills, yet retain that core gameplay that makes Sensible Soccer one of the finest football games ever.
Cannon Fodder (1993)
Sometimes the controversy surrounding a game works so effectively in the game’s favour, that it’s impossible not to wonder whether it was all engineered deliberately. Undoubtedly that was not the case here, yet it’s unlikely publisher Virgin Interactive was too perturbed about the articles that appeared in the mainstream press criticising the use of the poppy image in Cannon Fodder. Ironically, the game carries a strong anti-war flavour, bolstered by the traditional Sensi sense of humour, albeit a tad darker than in its previous releases, as the player controls a squad of fragile infantry troops against frequently superior enemy numbers. Using an intuitive point and click interface, there’s a beautiful strategical balance to Cannon Fodder with the careful manipulation of the secondary explosive weapons essential if progress is to be secured. Frighteningly playable and addictive – a killer combination.
Sensible World Of Soccer (1994)
After the success of Sensible Soccer, Sensible took note of the popularity of football management simulations and melded the two genres together; the result was Sensible World Of Soccer, another massive hit, especially on the Commodore Amiga. Acknowledging that authenticity was becoming more important, Sensible included real player names for the first time, and broadened the range of clubs that you could manage to, well, practically any team in the world. The career option allowed the player to build a, erm, career, while there was increased customisation, allowing fans to create their own leagues and cups. In short, it’s fab, and in Antstream Arcade's opinion the absolute apex of video game footie.